Brandon Phillips and Sean Rodriguez wouldn’t have been teammates in 2017 if not for a near tragic car crash involving Rodriguez and his family in late January. Rodriguez and his family suffered serious injuries but thankfully they were all able to recover. He however would require shoulder surgery on his left shoulder and the initial diagnosis was that it could keep him out for the majority of the season.
Atlanta had just inked Rodriguez to a two-year, $11.5 million deal with the hopes that he would provide their lineup with some right-handed power and positional flexibility. One thought was that Rodriguez would see the most action at second base, at least until Ozzie Albies was ready to debut.
Rodriguez’s injury left a giant-sized hole at second base for the Braves, who filled it by acquiring Phillips in a trade with Cincinnati. With the Reds picking up all but $1 million of Phillips’ salary there wasn’t a lot to lose in this situation for the Braves.
Phillips gave Atlanta more than they could have reasonably expected. He hit .291/.329/.423 to go along with 27 doubles and 11 home runs. Per FanGraphs he was worth 1.6 fWAR on the season which was the sixth best total among hitters on the team. Rendering this total more impressive is that A) he bounced back from a down 2016, and B) he amassed the 1.6 fWAR in 499 PAs with the Braves, and contributed nothing after being moved to the Angels later in the year.
When the Braves acquired Phillips, then-GM John Coppolella made it clear that the move would not block Albies when he was ready to debut, which ended up being on August 1. The team made it clear that the plan was for Albies to play everyday at second which left Phillips in a bit of limbo.
Reports indicated that the Braves had shopped Phillips at the trade deadline but no trade materialized. He was thought of as a waiver deal possibility as well but manager Brian Snitker pitched Phillips on the idea of moving to third base. Phillips took a day to decide and then agreed to make the switch.
He never did comment on the move and many took his silence as a sign that he was unhappy with the switch. To his credit, he never let the switch become an issue. Phillips was surprisingly effective at third. Per FanGraphs he was worth minus-1 defensive runs saved in 218 innings at third. In comparison, he recorded minus-7 defensive runs saved in 946 innings at second. (By comparison, UZR was more positive on him in his tiny sample at third base, with a +2.9 mark which surpassed his -0.2 mark at second on the year.)
Atlanta traded Phillips to the Angels at the waiver trade deadline on August 31. They received catcher Tony Sanchez in the deal, who appeared in one game before being outrighted off the roster and electing free agency.
Rodriguez meanwhile recovered much quicker than was first anticipated and worked hard to get himself back. He was activated from the disabled list in mid-July and made his debut on July 17. Whether he was ready or not is worth questioning. Rodriguez appeared in 11 games while on his rehab assignment and was just 3-for-39 at the plate.
His struggles continued while in Atlanta hitting just .162/.326/.351 in just 15 games with the Braves. Phillips’ presence along with Johan Camargo’s emergence made finding playing time for Rodriguez difficult. Atlanta traded him back to Pittsburgh on August 5.
Rodriguez hit a walk-off home run in his first game back for the Pirates but his struggles continued hitting .168 with three home runs over the final 39 games. It’s not entirely clear whether lingering injury effects took a chunk out of his effectiveness, but this is something the Pirates will have to deal with next season.
As for Phillips, he finished out the 2017 season in Anaheim in umpressive fashion, putting up a 72 wRC+ and 0.0 fWAR in 105 PAs. While he did bounce back from a 2016 season where posted only 1.0 fWAR, he still failed to put up an average 2017 in aggregate, and may not find a starting role for himself in the offseason. Phillips didn’t even make MLB Trade Rumors’ list of the top 50 free agents (ending up as an honorable mention), and is therefore unlikely to get notably more than $5 million on a prove-it deal as teams fill out their 2018 rosters.